Dec 24, 2022 - Technology

Wordle gave pop culture a new way to connect in 2022

Illustration of a city and townscape with the windows as glowing Wordle squares.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wordle has proved to be a force throughout 2022, and gave many a new way to connect.

Why it matters: Even in a time of deep cultural, generational and technological differences, trends can still bring together a wide cross-section of people.

Though it grew slowly at first, Wordle's player count skyrocketed throughout last December and January. By spring, everyone seemed to be playing it and notable people from Paul McCartney (who the game's creator suspected of cheating) to Kamala Harris publicly shared scores and strategies.

  • Wordle’s quick rise inspired many, many spinoff games, including Heardle, Letterdle, Moviedle, etc.
  • In May, the NYT said buying Wordle had added “tens of millions of new users” to its platform.
  • “I literally almost never meet someone who hasn’t played Wordle,” the New York Times’ head of games, Jonathan Knight, told Slate in September. “Any time it comes up in conversation at dinner parties or conventions or family gatherings, I mean, just everybody knows what we’re talking about.”

The intrigue: Intentionally or not, the game affected and reflected pop culture in 2022.

  • In early May, the unannounced Supreme Court decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade was leaked. Some May 9 Wordle players received the word “fetus,” and the NYT acted to change the word for others saying in a note, “... We want Wordle to remain distinct from the news.”
  • Separately, the Cambridge Dictionary’s 2022 word of the year was “homer,” inspired by the many Wordle players who searched for the word after it appeared in a puzzle.

Wordle also allowed family and friends to build new channels of communication around sharing scores.

  • Many new group texts were begun or taken over by the daily sharing of scores.
  • “Wordle became this lightweight way to check in with your friends and family and tell them that you loved them, without using big heavy words like ‘I love you,’” the game's creator, Josh Wardle, said at a conference.

State of play: The number of people sharing their scores on Twitter has fallen precipitously, according to the WordleStats bot, from a high of almost 362,000 on Feb. 3 to fewer than 24,000 on Dec. 21.

  • But much of that activity has simply moved to private channels like text messages.

What’s next: The NYT has already doubled down on its investment.

  • It hired a Wordle editor, who has already made changes.
  • And the internet-only game has already become a physical one, just in time for the holidays.
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